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Stephen Douglas Recommends Illinois Ally for Indian Agency in Minnesota
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STEPHEN A. DOUGLAS. Autograph Letter Signed, to Robert McClelland, ca. March-May 1853, [Washington, D.C.] 2 pp., 4 x 6¾ in.

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Complete Transcript

My Dr Sir,

            You will recollect that I mentioned to you the other day that I felt a special interest in the appointment of Richard G. Murphy to the Sious Agency in Minnesota Terry; and you requested me to write you a note to call your attention specially to the case. Col Murphy has had much experience with Indians, is an honest man to <2> my certain knowledge. he wont steal nor cheat either the Indians or the government, & in short he is the best man you can send there.

                                                                        Your friend

                                                                        S. A. Douglas

Hon Mr. McClelland

Secy of Interior

Historical Background

With the inauguration of Franklin Pierce in March 1853, Democrats took control of the patronage power of the Executive branch. By 1852, Senator Stephen A. Douglas had established himself as one of the leaders of the Democrats in Congress, and he easily won reelection in 1853. When his ally from Illinois, Richard G. Murphy wanted to resume the role of agent for the Sioux in Minnesota he held under James K. Polk, Douglas obliged with this letter of recommendation. Pierce duly appointed Murphy to the post.

Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861) was born in Vermont, and his father died when he was a few months old. After attending Canandaigua Academy in western New York, he began to teach school and study law. In 1833, Douglas migrated to Illinois and settled in Jacksonville, where he was admitted to the bar. As a Democrat, Douglas served in the Illinois House of Representatives, then as Illinois Secretary of State, and in 1841, an associate justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, he served from 1843 to 1847, when he became one of Illinois’ U.S. Senators, a position he held until his death. He became a leader in the U.S. Senate, and his sponsorship of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and popular sovereignty in the U.S. territories drew the opposition of fellow Illinoisan Abraham Lincoln. Their series of debates in 1858, when Lincoln tried to unseat Senator Douglas, drew national attention to both men. In 1860, southern opposition to Douglas as the Democratic nominee for president divided the Democrats, allowing Abraham Lincoln to win a plurality of the votes and a majority in the electoral college. Douglas strongly supported the Union and urged compromise to avert secession before dying of typhoid fever in June 1861.

Robert McClelland (1807-1880) was born in Pennsylvania and graduated at the top of his class from Dickinson College in 1829. He practiced law in Pittsburgh before moving in 1833 to the Michigan Territory, where he established a law practice in Monroe. He served as a Democrat in the Michigan House of Representatives in the 1830s and 1840s before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1842 and serving from 1843 to 1849. McClelland served as Governor of Michigan from 1852 to 1853. He resigned as governor in March 1853 to serve as Secretary of the Interior under President Franklin Pierce from 1853 to 1857. McClelland retired from public office and returned to a law practice in Detroit.

Richard G. Murphy (1801-1875) was born in Tennessee, and moved with his family to Illinois in 1818. He served as a Democrat in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1833 to 1842. In 1847, President James K. Polk appointed Murphy as agent for the Sioux in Minnesota, but Murphy returned to Illinois in 1850 and was once again elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he helped reelect Stephen A. Douglas to the U.S. Senate. President Franklin Pierce again appointed Murphy agent for the Sioux of Minnesota, and he served from May 3, 1853, to October 16, 1856. He later served in the Minnesota Senate from 1857 to 1859, and was its president pro tempore until June 3, 1858. He retired from public service and became a farmer and stock raiser in Scott County, Minnesota.


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